Florence is bisected by the Arno River
A Week on a Tuscan Farm
Photos and story by John Blanchette
Italy Flying into Florence, my seatmate was the curator of Italian
Renaissance paintings at the Metropolitan Museum in New
York. He was headed to the Uffizi Gallery to organize an art tour
of master works in the United States.
I was headed south about 50 miles for a weeks
visit to another of the countrys great treasures, and to discover
how Italian landscape art is being preserved in the country.
The green-grey hills and the fields of Spannocchia
viewed from the castle's veranda.
Lost in the burnt-Siena soils and green-grey hills of
lies the 1,100 acre organic farming community and non-profit educational
center of Spannocchia, where visitors can immerse themselves in workshops
on Italian language, literature, art, crafts, Tuscan cooking and sustainable
farming; help with the farming chores, grow vegetables, feed and care
for the animals, or just lie poolside and enjoy the fruits of a working
farm.I was lucky enough to arrive on Pizza night and gorge on a never-ending
variety of delicious flat breads, laced with the farms olive oil
and abundant meats and vegetables.
One of several Villas at Spannocchia
Food is an important part of the experience. During
my week the chefs served wonderful salads and seasonal vegetables grown
in the gardens along with chicken, wild boar, pasta, sausages, venison,
lamb, suckling pig and beef all from the farm.
Thanks to the Cinelli family that owns and manages the
12th century property, Spannocchia retains much of the feel of the mezzadria
or sharecropping society that characterized the area for over 800 years.
Just 20 minutes south of Siena, it represents a way of life that is
fast disappearing in Tuscany and Europe.
Dedicated to preserving native foods and livestock,
Spannocchia has 80 of the last remaining 400 sheep indigenous to the
Nikki leading Noahs Ark Project sheep to pasture
The endangered breeds cultivated by the Noahs
Ark project include pigs, chickens, horses, cows and donkeys. There
is a renewable forestry project, a water conservation program, bee keeping
and a heavy emphasis on recycling and the composting of the soils.
The farm is close to self-sustaining, producing most
of the food consumed by the community, including its own olive oil and
red and white wines, which are cheerfully consumed each evening on the
veranda of the castle while discussing the events of the day and watching
the sun set over the farm and the magnificent Tuscan hills.
Nikki slopping the hogs
Dray horse cools from the
summer heat in the shadow
of the castle wall and looks out on the fields
Every three months 10 new interns are chosen to work
on the farm and experience Italian culture and lifestyle in a hands
on environment. Some stay on and become part of the community. I spent
much of my time working with Nikki Conzo, who tends all the animals.
The young American has spent three years at Spannocchia.
The grounds are composed of seven villas and the main
castle, accommodating up to 80 visitors at one time. Rates vary by season
and location. To stay on the property you need to join the Spannocchia
To learn more about the history, purpose and internship
program, visit www.spannocchia.org,
for reservations, www.spannocchia.com,
or call Executive Director Erin Cinelli, (207) 871-5158.
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